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Kamiel Klasse talks about latest projects realized by NL Architects in the Netherland: architecture as a response to contemporary ways of living, between urban life and intimacy.
interview by Flores Zanchi, Photo: Raoul Kramer, Erik en Petra Hesm, Marieke Kijkt

Recently .NL Architects have completed two residential complexes, Prisma Building in Groningen and Funen Block K in Amsterdam, two really different types of buildings located one in a Post War area and the other in a new urban developement, which are the common characteristics of these two projects?

The differences between these projects are enormous: they span the range of possible budget categories in the Netherlands: Prisma extremely cheap, Funen luxury.  But there are similarities as well.

They both experiment with collective expression and individuality. Can you be inseparable part of a large whole and still be unique?

And they both are parametric experiments, in an ‘embryonic’ stage. They share a method of dealing with mathematical constraints. The partly self chosen, partly inevitable limitations help to formulate the logic behind the Form:

In case of the Funen project we took as a starting point that the overall volume of the dwellings should remain the same: a kind of rubber block. To create a clever shortcut in the urban plan we shifted the access alley: one dwelling would be compressed, the other stretched, as such redistributing the volume, creating higher and lower sections, but average height sill intact. The resulting ‘valley’ performed well in the dense urban surroundings, creating a vista and framing two pocket parks.

In the Prisma building the size of the balconies had to be constant although the dept would increase from top to bottom. This led to elegantly shifting proportions. Keeping one parameter fixed creates visual clarity while at the same time allowing a form of cultivated complexity.

As an architect, which is your idea of living well today?

Right in the middle of the city, close to the airport with a garden and plenty of space to park your car. But quiet. Sound insulation is better for the environment than double glazing! A spacious loft with many rooms. And a stunning view of course. Home office. ‘Symmetrical’ household. Basketball pitch in the hallway. Sensational playgrounds close by. Bowling in the alley. 15 minutes bike ride from the office, maybe 20 even. And a lot of storage space! Also the coffee shops should not further be than 350 meter from the schools. Nursery next to window prostitution. Plenty of paradoxes to deal with: Delirious Amsterdam!

Which do you think are the boundaries between public and private spaces? and in NL Architects projects?

The boundaries between the public and the private have been pretty much blurred. Public life has entered the living room and private life took over the public square.

Information technology has a big impact on how we live and work. Ideally people will be free to choose their work environment depending on their mood. To avoid a traffic jam or to keep on working inside it. Eventually working becomes independent from time and place to create immense spatial flexibility. You can work at home and ‘live’ at work… The shopping streets might soon consist of coffee shops only from where people will order there products on-line…

The level of transparency that we managed to introduce in the Funen project is quite surprising for many foreigners. Traditionally the Dutch keep their windows open widely. For there is nothing to hide in front of God. This has led to great transparency. But now God has died (at least in the Netherlands) people tend to increase their privacy. More and more they close their curtains.  

Talking about another of your latest projects, the Groninger forum, you declare that it "aspires to invent the cultural information center of tomorrow, a physical version of  wikipedia" ...how?

It is the ambition of the Groninger Forum to create a new type of ‘library’. But calling it a library does not really do justice to its complexity. It will be a cinema, a museum, an archive and public square inside a building. All these aspects are intended to reinforce each other through proximity. They go in a ‘blender’; the boundaries between the institutions will be dissolved.

By organizing the information thematically and not only alphabetically a new way to experience the library will come into being. Crossovers between the different media will be created: selected films and books and artifacts will be brought together, sometimes for short events sometimes in more permanent configurations. The content will constantly be mixed and re-mixed. It will definitely not be just about books.

The idea is that Finding is more important than Searching.  The typology of the vertical atrium with horizontal branches will contribute to the possibility to encounter the unexpected. It will hopefully increase exposure. You will bump into interesting things every time you visit. The Forum will become a ‘find engine’. A giant pinball machine!

It means that browsing, a term now mostly used in relationship with the digital highway, will become very rewarding and productive in the Forum. The specific spatial setup will catalyze interaction between visitors and content. In a way the stacked squares are intended to create physical version of Hyperlinks: from one thing comes another… The specifics of the Atrium make sure the public can reach all the ‘pores’ of the complex.

And also similar to Wikipedia it hopes to establish a platform where the visitor can contribute to the content. The Forum will not just be about ‘consumption’ or a one way relationship: it hopes to become a center for debate, a place to meet; an extended ‘living room’ for the people of Groningen.

Your Spordtgebouw it's an innovative Gymnastics Hall: it combines the gymnasiums of three different schools in only one compound and in the evening and weekends it's open to everybody. How did you combine this functional complexity in the design and in the layout of the building?

Spordtgebouw is in Dordrecht and is the biggest of such facilities in the Netherlands. In total there are 8 halls on a ‘pile’, used by different schools. The advantage of combining the facilities, as opposed to placing the sports halls in each school separately, is that you can share stuff. It becomes possible to introduce specific qualities to each room; halls can be dedicated to specific sports, with specific equipment and gear. A crazy swing or trampoline, or a dojo for instance. Optimize! This leads to a form of professionalization. A pleasant side-effect is that the sports teachers of the different schools can talk to each other and exchange information on a daily basis. Also a big complex has more to offer to the people that use the sports hall in the off hours, evenings and weekends: more possibilities are available. As such public money can be used more publicly.

This led to the idea to introduce additional functions, the climbing hall and fitness center. These were not part of the original competition brief. The idea was to use the functional plasticity of a climbing gym as a billboard for the building as a whole: a sculptural, programmed facade!

By ‘splitting’ a regular climbing hall, the rocky interior is exposed. The atrium that came into being creates a sense of being outside. The immense windows allow a view of the spectacular events in the interior. A sliced amethyst…

Since our client could not easily find a user for the ‘cave’, we had to go beyond the regular tasks of the architect: we had to go look for an entrepreneur to develop the interior. We are very excited: also this part of the building will now soon be completed. Kas Oosterhuis / ONL is responsible for the design of the ingenious and innovative climbing wall system. Now the school classes can soon use one of the most exhilarating climbing halls in the country.

It is also a communicative architecture, first of all for it’s expressive facade on the Boulevard but also for the graphic language used to help students to move inside the building, would you tell us something about this feature?

Since the building is a 3D puzzle, a fairly complex maze came into being leading from the entrance to the different dressing rooms on the different floors. In order not to get lost we had to create a way-finding system. We designated each hall a color and introduced the typical sports markings also in the corridors. To navigate easily: just follow the right colorful line… It turns the circulation space into playground: the infrastructure becomes part of the games.

At some point we got into a conflict with the Dutch Olympic Committee. Our proposal for the floor pattern turned out reminiscent of the Logo-with-the-Rings; we were accused of breeching their copyrights… so we had to slightly modify our layout. It doesn’t really matter for the end result, but still it is a pity that this additional double meaning, even a triple meaning you could say, had to be abandoned.  

.NL Architects characterizes all it’s work with a clear and innovative communication, in your opinion, which is the role of communication in architecture?

We like our architecture to be communicative, although sometimes buildings are better off numb... We like to establish relationships between the building and its context, whether it are the physical or cultural conditions, history or the rules and regulations. We like to emphasize connections, hope to discover links. The office has a remarkable capacity to associate. And to bring out ‘meaning’, or reveal certain logic. By purging all ‘ballast’ the central idea can be celebrated. And understood.

Photo: Raoul Kramer, Erik en Petra Hesm, Marieke Kijkt

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